Petrified About Public Speaking?
Fifteen Frightful Ways to Fail
Presentations can be scary. Standing in front of a group to teach, speak at a meeting, or conduct a group orientation, can make the bravest of us wish we were invisible. And small wonder, because we have all attended some terrible presentations that may haunt us forever.
First, becoming a good presenter takes lots of practice. Second, you must have the ability to learn from others’ mistakes and avoid them, so here are 15 frightful ways to fail — and how to avoid them:
- Use inappropriate humor. Humor that offends people is worse than not using any at all. If you have any doubt about your material, don’t use it. Tie humor to your topic and don’t use anecdotes that are always the same theme (like sports, or children).
- Gesture in distracting ways. Be careful where you aim — finger pointing can be insulting, and waving your hands can distract listeners. Pay attention to your gestures and eliminate the pointing and waving through practice.
- Speak in a monotone. Only if you are a hypnotist and you want them verrrryyyyy sleeeeepy. Try to vary the cadence of your speech and the pitch of your voice. Tape yourself during practice and play it back to check the changes in your voice.
- Repeat the same phrase—a million times. Repeated phrases are, uh, ya know, annoying, and, uh, ya know, laughable. Listen to yourself and catch the phrases and speech tics that have become habitual.
- Eat or chew gum while you are speaking. When it’s your turn to speak, especially during a meeting where there is food, make sure you are finished enjoying that donut or the gum before you start talking. People may not understand what you are saying, and you can’t hide what’s in your mouth. Where are your manners?
- Go off on a tangent. Stay on topic, if you digress, get right back to the subject at hand. People will stop listening, and you appear disorganized.
- Quote research in general terms. For example stating, “a recent survey shows” or “psychologists say”. If you are quoting research, then be specific. Otherwise, your credibility is in question, or you appear too lazy to have looked it up.
- Speak softly and carry a big stick. If you speak too loudly, it could irritate listeners, and put them on the defense and you might be spitting on them. If you speak too softly, listeners tune out because they can’t understand you.
- Never look them in the eye. Avoiding eye contact makes you appear scared or dishonest. As you speak look someone in the eye a couple of minutes and then move on to the next person. If you are using a screen or chart, don’t talk to it, talk to the listeners.
- Get carried away. It’s great to be passionate or enthusiastic about your topic, but don’t lose your temper, or lose control of your emotions. You may appear childish, and repel your audience. Take deep breaths and be calm.
- Use stupid Ice breakers. Who hasn’t felt silly playing a goofy guessing game? Making introductions or having participants introduce themselves is a better ice breaker than embarrassment.
When using media and equipment in the presentation:
12. Present an outdated program. Some of the material is so old, it’s erroneous or obsolete. Another problem is using something obviously “canned”. Be sure you update your materials frequently, and customize it for the audience.
13. Read out loud to your audience every slide, and the handout, so you get every word perfectly. You might as well play a video and call it a day. Put a little more work into it and know your subject. Only read something if it is an exact quote.
14. Overload your power point with too much animation. A little goes a long way; don’t fall in love with the gimmicks. You want the subject to be remembered, and not the “showy graphics”.
15. Walk in front of the projector. This makes you look like an amateur, plus you can go blind!
According to the “Book of Lists”, public speaking is number one on the “fear list”, above death and disease! Horrifying as it sounds, usually the more public speaking you do, the easier it becomes, so practice is the key.
If you want to take your public speaking skills to another level, consider visiting “Toastmasters”, an international nonprofit organization, or contacting a “for profit” professional course such as Dale Carnegie Training.